Skip to navigationSkip to content

A talking stick is the ultimate answer to manterruptions

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who moderated bipartisan negotiations holds her walking stick
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
The low-tech solution.
  • Lila MacLellan
By Lila MacLellan

Quartz at Work reporter

This article is more than 2 years old.

A US senator may have solved the manterruptions problem that’s so familiar to any woman who has ever worked with a man.

During the three-day government shutdown that ended late yesterday (Jan. 22), Susan Collins, a Republican senator from Maine, graciously hosted negotiations in her office, where a group of Republicans and Democrats hashed out solutions to a number of tough budget issues.

Part of the reason they were finally successful, it might be argued, is because Collins tamped down on interruptions by asking everyone in the meetings to only speak when they were holding her decorative talking stick. This ensured there would be only one voice in the room at a time, though it apparently didn’t protect one glass elephant that was chipped in a minor tussle between lawmakers.

Collins told CNN, holding up the stick:

And as you can see, it’s beautifully beaded and it was given to me by my friend Democratic Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and it is originally from Africa, and it is used to help control the debate in a meeting when you have a large number of loquacious people. And it was very helpful in making sure that everybody’s voice got heard when we were doing the discussions in my office day, after day, after day.

Yes, it’s a storyline straight out of Veep, the popular HBO comedy series, as has been pointed out on social media.

The stick’s 15 minutes of fame deserves to be extended, however. It just may be a low-tech solution to an issue that high-tech sensors are now quantifying: Men speak more often than women in company meetings and around the office, and women are routinely interrupted.

Even Supreme Court justices can’t escape this special treatment, which has serious consequences for women at work. Data show that men are rewarded more often than women even when women hit the same performance goals.

There’s only one catch with this proposal: The talking stick is typically sourced to indigenous tribes of the Pacific Northwest, and their tradition says someone can speak as long as they need to, if they’re holding the stick.

In other words, it won’t solve mansplaining.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.